Getting There Is Half The Fun, 25 Tips For Stress-Free Family Travel

By Janine Queenin December 5, 2019

The holiday season means traveling for a lot of families. It’s great to reconnect with family and friends, but hitting the road with young children is also work. Whether you visit family or go on vacation by plane, train, or automobile, traveling with kids is a challenge. Here are 25 ideas to get you to your destination stress-free and ready for some fun.

Use “kid-time” when making plans and arranging itineraries. Give yourself plenty of time for bathroom breaks, pit stops for food and drink, forgotten items, and general kid distraction. Disregard kid-time at your peril.

If kids are old enough to talk, practice for airport security at home and tell children how to answer questions from TSA agents. Last year we flew with the child of a family friend. When asked how he knows us, he replied: “They’re friends of the family, but that’s probably what someone being kidnapped would say.” It would have been funny, but TSA doesn’t have a sense of humor.

Airport security is stressful under the glare of annoyed business travelers. Family lines at airport security are intended for families with strollers and piles of gear, use it. You won’t see a business traveler within 100 feet of this line.

Let kids pack and carry their own small bag with toys and snacks. A rolling bag orsmall backpack is fun and lessens the pack-mule feeling for Mom and Dad.

Pack a change of clothes for all family members in a carry-on. If the luggage doesn’t arrive or a spill or accident occurs, you’ll be ready. I learned this lesson the hard way after my son got sick on me halfway through a seven-hour flight.

Use time on the road or in the air to build excitement about the trip. Research your destination through guidebooks or websites and let kids plan a few activities.

Traveling is an excellent time to break the family’s no electronics rule. Age- appropriate apps and games are a lifesaver during long rides or delays.

Dress all children in the same, bright colored shirt to locate them quickly at a busy rest area or airports.

Lollipops help relieve ear pressure on airplanes during take-off and offer a few minutes of quiet distraction while you rent a car, check-in at a hotel, or wait for a table at a restaurant. Sugar-free lollipops work too.

Invest in a few new inexpensive books and toys, put each in wrapping paper or a decorated paper bag, and let your child open one each hour during the trip. Old toys that have been out of rotation will work too.

Pack an abundance of healthy snacks like fruit and whole-wheat crackers; include some protein like cheese or hummus to keep everyone’s energy up. Don’t forget a few treats.

Bring a refillable water bottle and fill it after airport security. The air in the cabin is dry, the cups given out by flight attendants are small, and the water on the plane is suspect. Dehydration causes fatigue and worsens jet lag, so drink up.

Write your cell phone number on your child’s arm in pen or order some child safety temporary tattoos with your phone number. Put a business card from the hotel or a note with your temporary address in the child’s pants pocket.

Travel mid-week, if possible, to save money and avoid crowds on the road and in the air.

Ship big, bulky items like diapers ahead of time to the hotel. Give the hotel a call to let them know it’s coming.

Forgetting where you parked is a lousy way to end a vacation. Use a phone to snap a picture of your car’s location before heading into the terminal.

Some airlines allow parents with children to board first. Board early and the kids will be cooped up on the plane for an extra 20-30 minutes. If you have a seat assignment, wait until the end of the line.

Tuck a soft duffle bag into your suitcase. Souvenirs are heavy, and extra weight on a plane is pricey, so it pays (literally) to plan ahead.

Fly early in the morning to avoid waiting at the airport. Afternoon and evening flights are more likely to be delayed.

Reserve your seats on a plane as early as possible to avoid being separated from your children. Unless your kids are old enough to sit alone, think twice about booking with an inexpensive carrier without assigned seating. If you are separated, ask other passengers to change seats. Many are willing to help a mom, especially if you offer a better location on the plane.

Wipe down all surfaces on the plane with disinfecting wipes. Carry a small first aid kit with OTC medication to reduce fever, antibiotic creme, and bandages. Searching for a pharmacy with a screaming, feverish child, or a bloody appendage will ruin your day.

When you travel overseas, consider booking a hotel room for the night before you arrive. That way, you’ll have someplace to go after your flight arrives at 5:00 am. A 3:00 pm check-in feels like forever with tried, cranky kids (and adults!).

Whenever possible, find parks or areas where kids can run and burn off some steam.

When getting on a bus, train, elevator, or even a revolving door, decide who will get on first and last, so no one is lost or left behind.

Lower your expectations about how much can be accomplished with kids in tow. Then lower them again. And one more time. There you go.

Keep your sense of humor, be open to adventures, and, most of all, have fun. Don’t sweat the small stuff, and don’t worry about the kids remembering your adventures. They might not remember, but you will.

Janine Queenin is the owner of Storied Adventures travel. She believes it’s never too soon to show children the world. Whenever possible, she travels near and far with her own kids. Do you want to plan a family getaway, but you’re not sure which vacation will work for the whole gang? Take Janine’s 60-second quiz to find out.